House of Commons Hansard #136 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was afghanistan.

Topics

Opposition motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Labrador, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to the motion put forward by my colleague from Bourassa.

Members on this side of the House are calling on the government to offer clarity and certainty to the Canadian people when it comes to our military mission in Afghanistan. There are Conservatives on that side of the House who will argue that to even raise this debate, to even ask these types of questions, is not to support the troops. Nothing could be further from the truth.

My riding of Labrador is a military riding in two senses. We have a major defence installation, 5 Wing Goose Bay, which has served the needs of Canada and our allies on both sides of the Atlantic since 1941. We also have numerous men and women in uniform in all three branches of the Canadian armed forces and many who have served overseas in Afghanistan, the Balkans and other international deployments over the years. Our broader community has been directly affected by our commitment as Canadians to serving in military missions overseas.

The past two weeks, as we all know, have been difficult for all of us, with nine Canadian servicemen losing their lives in the line of duty in Afghanistan. One of those was Private Kevin Kennedy, whose mother is from Wabush, Labrador. He is one of five soldiers from our province who has paid the ultimate price in service for the defence of Canada during the Afghanistan mission. On behalf of all Labrador constituents, I would like to extend my deepest condolences to the Kennedy family and to all those whom Private Kevin Kennedy touched in his life.

I can say with full confidence that the people of Labrador, who I represent, support our troops and hold our Canadian armed forces in the highest regard. At the same time, Labradorians and indeed all Canadians demand and deserve an open and respectful debate on Afghanistan and our future role in that country.

It is an important principle of military policy in Canada and in all democratic nations that our armed forces are under civilian political responsibility. This means that the policy questions of what we expect our armed forces to do and how we expect them to carry out the tasks that Canadians require them to do are separate from day to day military operations. We can and should discuss policy without any fear of being smeared as not supporting our troops.

Wherever we send our Canadian armed forces in the world, whether to Afghanistan or the Balkans in the 1990s, or on humanitarian missions such as the relief operations in the wake of the Asian tsunami or hurricane Katrina, Canadians are proud of our men and women in uniform and support them fully. However, that is and must be separate from the policy questions of what we as a country and as a society want our armed forces to do on our behalf.

There are also some who will falsely allege that by raising these questions is to be soft on terrorism. Again, nothing could be further from the truth. I remember very well the morning of September 11, 2001. We all remember the horror of what became the worst single terrorist plot in human history, with nearly 3,000 dead, 9,000 injured and countless lives changed forever. We also remember that this plot was carried out by al-Qaeda, which at the time enjoyed the support and safe haven offered to it by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

That is why Canada, under the leadership of our former prime minister, Jean Chrétien, joined with the United States and our allies in a multinational effort to dismantle the Taliban regime, bring order to Afghanistan and to ensure that the country would no longer be a haven for international terrorism. That was a decision of a Liberal government and it was the right decision.

We will never let it be said that we are soft on terrorism. When the world needed us, we were there and our record will stand the test of history.

All that being said, there is no reason why we should not now, six years later, engage in a respectful and intelligent debate on what our role in Afghanistan should be in the future.

Canada has committed to remaining in Afghanistan until February 2009 and we support that, but we also take the position that Canada needs to set out a firm date for our rotation out of Afghanistan, with our place, after nearly a decade, to be taken up by one of our NATO partners.

It is not a question of abandoning Afghanistan. We are committed to a multi-pronged approach to achieving progress for the people of Afghanistan. That includes military operations for the duration of our involvement in the Afghanistan mission. It also includes diplomacy, development assistance and support for Canadian NGOs who are at work in the country, and by every means at our disposal to build a civil society.

However, we must not let the remnants of the Taliban dictate our policy or, even as the governing Conservatives suggest, dictate the terms of our political debate.

Our long-standing parliamentary tradition, our Charter of Rights and Freedoms and our human rights laws demand respect for free speech and respectful debate. This is fundamental to our democratic society. It is not a sign of weakness that we can have this debate. It is a sign of strength. It is everything that the Taliban has fought against.

To avoid this discussion, to avoid this conversation because of what the Taliban might read into it, because of whatever false hope they might derive from it, is to let ourselves become their puppets. It cannot happen and it will not happen.

These open debates make our democratic institutions such powerful examples for the world and for our friends in the fledgling Afghan democracy.

Afghanistan, with international support, including that of the Government of Canada and with the Canadian armed forces, have made progress since the fall of 2001 and the fall of the Taliban regime. We are proud of our achievements and we stand in full support of what our Canadian armed forces have achieved on the ground in Afghanistan. We support them.

We continue to support them even as we begin the rational and constructive process of discussing how Canada will disengage, just as we have done so in our other overseas deployments since the second world war.

It is not weakness to begin this policy discussion. It is not softness. It is strength. It is the strength of our democracy and the image of Canada we seek to project around the world.

We are proud of our record in Afghanistan and will remain proud, even as we work to transition our military responsibilities, and as we seek to ensure a robust continued Canadian involvement in Afghanistan through our other branches of the Canadian government and other instruments of foreign policy.

The Conservatives will try to score crass political points with this matter but they will fail, just as they have failed in their other shameful attempts to politicize our Canadian armed forces.

During the last election campaign, for example, they made an astounding variety of political promises to Goose Bay in my riding, promises they are unable to provide and increasingly unwilling to keep.

It was not just Goose Bay. They made similar promises on the backs of the Canadian armed forces and the Department of National Defence in St. John's, Comox, Bagotville, Trenton, Gagetown, Cold Lake, Iqaluit and many other communities across this country. The Conservatives wrote political IOUs on DND's account which they cannot cash.

Just as in the Afghanistan debate, the Conservatives were shameful and shameless in their willingness to use the Canadian military as a political pawn. We cannot allow that to happen.

Our discussions as a Parliament, as a government and as Canadians on military matters must be civil and respectful. It is not unpatriotic, it is not disrespectful of our troops and it is not failing to support them to engage in these debates.

Our democratic principles and the fundamental principle of civilian political responsibility for our military demand that we must engage in this debate. Again, we support our troops.

We ask these questions and contemplate these decisions without fear that our patriotism or respect for the Canadian armed forces would ever be questioned. Anything less would be disrespectful of the freedom and liberty that 54 Canadians have died for in the line of duty and what they have died for in building and defending Afghanistan.

I stand in favour of this motion.

Opposition motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to respond to the mixed message that we are getting today from the Liberals. They keep saying over and over that they support the troops and that is great. They are the ones who actually sent the troops over there in the first place. I suppose their willingness now to say that we are going to pull them out and give notice right now is a contradiction, at least in my mind.

Last Sunday I was at the Holocaust memorial remembrance. It impressed me to see the pain that those people are feeling a generation or two after the events of the Holocaust.

The people in Afghanistan right now are experiencing the same thing. I believe that we have an obligation and, indeed, even a privilege, as our troops did in World War II, to go there and to stand between victims and their oppressors. The tyrannical Taliban regime needs to be wiped out.

How can the Liberals and that member in particular justify even contemplating pulling out until the job is done? We need to ensure we are focused on the task, not on some arbitrary date on which we are simply going to say that we are pulling out. That would be to admit defeat in advance. In fact, I believe it would be, in a sense, planning that defeat and we ought not to do that.

Opposition motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Labrador, NL

Mr. Speaker, I believe the only confusion rests with the Conservatives in terms of their position on Afghanistan. It was the Conservative government that brought a motion before the House to extend the mission until February 2009. It was the Conservatives who received the consent of the House to stay until February 2009.

During the debate on that motion they made comments about why we should be there until 2009. It was definitive in their minds that we would be there until 2009. It was not until February 2010 or February 2011. The Conservatives put a motion before the House that said we want to extend the mission until February 2009.

It is now the Conservatives who do not know how long they want to be in Afghanistan. Is it for another five years, ten years or fifteen years? It is the Minister of National Defence who one day says that we will be there until February 2009 and then the next day says that we will be there until we see irreversible progress, whenever that is or however they define that.

It is not the Liberals who are confused about the mission. It is the Conservatives and that is why we brought this motion before the House.

Opposition motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Denise Savoie Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased the member supports a multi-pronged approach but there seems to be an apparent contradiction that I do not seem to understand.

On the one hand the member is supporting a multi-pronged approach but in the Liberal motion the Liberals are supporting the Conservative motion to extend the mission, which the Conservatives have embarked us on, and where Canadians will continue to pay the ultimate price in a futile and failing mission that is not multi-pronged.

On one hand, the Liberals want to continue this approach for the next two years but on the other hand the member says that he wants to have a multi-pronged approach. Could he explain that contradiction?

Opposition motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Labrador, NL

Mr. Speaker, there is no contradiction. I would ask the member to read the motion very carefully and to go over the Hansard and read the comments by Liberal members. It is very clear that we are committed to the military mission until 2009. That was decided in this House and we will respect that. We have also said that diplomacy and development are other prongs that need to be continued. I do not believe that there is any contradiction whatsoever in terms of this motion or in the position of the Liberal Party of Canada.

The only confusion rests with the Conservatives as to whether they want to pull out and stop our military portion of the mission in 2009 or whether they want to continue for another five or ten years.

Opposition motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Halifax will want to craft her remarks knowing that she will be interrupted at 5:15 p.m.

Opposition motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am very sorry to have so little time and to not be able to share my time with the member for Burnaby--Douglas who also had hoped to participate in the debate.

Let me say very briefly that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, I stood in the House as leader of the New Democratic Party and issued a plea that was being expressed around the world that the same values that cause us to be outraged and repulsed by the acts of barbarity of 9/11 guide us in our response to those horrible crimes. From that day to this, I have had ringing in my ears the words of a survivor of 9/11, who stated the following at the World Trade Center site:

As I silently remember my friends and co-workers who have perished, I know only this: If we fail to wage peace instead of war, if we do not learn to value all life as fervently as we value our own, then their deaths will mean nothing, and terror and violence will remain our dark companions.

I will never forget standing on the tarmac in Kandahar surrounded by troops, courageous men and women, who are doing what they have been asked and assigned to do on behalf of Canadians as members of the Canadian armed forces. They continue to do what is being asked of them to this day. A very tragic number of them have lost their lives.

Let me make it clear, as I once again issue a plea, that we understand we have to commit to participation in a comprehensive peace process. I issue the plea for the government to understand that if it continues to say that every Taliban is evil and the enemy and must be exterminated, it is going to continue to drive people into the arms of the Taliban as the loved ones of civilians, men, women and children, are killed in the attempt to defeat the Taliban.

The case has been made again and again by many with much broader experience than I that we must launch a comprehensive peace process, understanding that we must reach out to the moderate Taliban. We must understand that we will drive people into the arms of the Taliban if we continue to kill civilians, if we continue to ignore the fact that babies die because they are starving because we are directing more and more of our resources into expensive military equipment. Instead we should understand that the way to rebuild the lives of people in Afghanistan, which surely is what our commitment is supposed to be about, is to do what needs to be done to improve life conditions in that country.

We are so out of balance and we have so lost sight of that needing to be the path to peace that I and my colleagues cannot possibly commit to what the Liberals are proposing today, that we continue with two years of the flawed failing strategy that is condemned to fail in the mission.

Opposition motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

It being 5:15 p.m., pursuant to order made earlier today all questions necessary to dispose of the opposition motion are deemed put and a recorded division deemed requested and deferred until Tuesday, April 24, at 5:30 p.m.

Opposition motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, with the debate having collapsed, I think you would find unanimous consent to see the clock as being at 5:30 p.m., so we could proceed to private members' business.

Opposition motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Is that agreed?

Opposition motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-278, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (benefits for illness, injury or quarantine), as reported (without amendment) from the committee.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

There being no motions at report stage, the House will now proceed without debate to the putting of the question on the motion to concur in the bill at report stage.

Employment Insurance Act
Private Members' Business

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Sydney—Victoria, NS

moved that the bill be concurred in.